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Issue Date: January 2007 Issue


Long Live the King


Kim Schneider
schneider@clevelandmagazine.com

With a swivel of his hips, Elvis Presley tuned a nation in to rock ’n’ roll. Even after his death almost 30 years ago, people still listen to his music and celebrate his birthday like it’s a national holiday. (Why isn’t it? we wonder.) So when the Elvis Recreators take the State Theatre stage Jan. 7, you’ll know Elvis has definitely not left the building.

The Rock-A-Billy Years
Elvis impersonator Donny Edwards, who’s usually decked out in a gold lamé jacket with pipe pants, sings classic hits such as “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel” from Elvis’ early years — the era that started it all. Gospel and country music fused with blues lifted 10 Elvis songs to the top of the charts between 1955 and 1957.

“That’s where rock ’n’ roll really came from,” says Shawn Klush, one of three Elvis impersonators in the show. “It’s not anything that wasn’t there, it just took a couple of individuals to put it together.”

Early recordings such as “That’s All Right Mama” are marked by a  raw sound and fast tempo.

Our Pick: “Love Me Tender” soothes the soul and makes us want to be his till the end of time.

Edwards turns up the charm with songs from Elvis’ 31 movies such as “King Creole” and “Flaming Star.” The big screen transformed Elvis from music sensation to movie star. “He got out of the Army in 1960,” Klush says. “And his next movie was called ‘G.I. Blues.’ It was like he never left the uniform.”

Edwards — sans sideburns — performs hits such as “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” “Blue Hawaii,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise” and “Return to Sender.” “They did away with the sideburns because it wasn’t the thing at the time,” Klush says. “He definitely has that ’60s feel going on.”

Our Pick: “Hard Headed Woman” moves fast, has smart lyrics and we just love the line “keep your cotton-pickin’ fingers out my curly hair.”
 
The ’68 Comeback Special
Though it wasn’t called the Comeback Special until after his death, Elvis’ performance became more intimate. He jammed onstage with his band to his early hits such as “Jailhouse Rock,” that had been changed slightly for a smoother, different sound.

“It was played with different instrumentation so it gave it a different sound altogether,” Klush says. “You are going to hear a complete switch [from] what the original song sounded like.”

Matt Lewis, rocking a black leather jacket, sings “Memories,” “If I Can Dream,” “A Little Less Conversation” and “Rubbernecking.”

Our Pick: With “Memories” his voice had matured and the mellowness makes us all sentimental inside.

The Las Vegas Years
This high-energy performance is full of glitz and glamour just like the Las Vegas strip. Klush takes on the finale with, of course, a white jumpsuit (made by the same people who made Elvis’ suits), plenty of gold jewelry and a slew of songs from “Burning Love” and “Promised Land,” to “American Trilogy,” “My Way” and “How Great Thou Art.”

Even D.J. Fontana, who played the drums with Elvis from 1954 to 1969 and Elvis’ backup singers Sweet Inspirations, who toured with him from 1969 to 1977, lend their talents to making the experience, as Klush says, “a re-creation of exactly what existed.”

Our Pick: We can’t go on together without listening to “Suspicious Minds.”   — Kim Schneider

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